The USMNT just finished a marathon slate of games that begin with a loss to Belgium in late May. The team won a record 11-straight, claimed the Gold Cup title and moved to first place in CONCACAF qualifying. More than 40 different players were called up to the stretch, many hoping to put themselves into the mix for a spot in Brazil. Below, Big Lead Sports soccer writers Mike Cardillo and Ty Duffy project who will be the 23 men joining Klinsmann on the plane in 2014.
Cardillo: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando
The most clear-cut roster decision, although each week in the Premier League a mini Howard vs. Guzan battle figures to play out with the fans on Twitter about who deserves to be the No. 1. Also file this away: Howard’s club team, Everton, brought Joel Robles on board who was a Roberto Martinez favorite at Wigan before the Spanish manager took over at Goodison Park earlier this summer for David Moyes.
Duffy: Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, Nick Rimando
I’ll lead off with a bold prediction. Tim Howard’s best attributes are his athleticism and durability. He turns 35 before Brazil. He played on broken “non-weight bearing” bones in his back last year. Guzan is coming off a strong season at Aston Villa. Howard has been in moderate decline for some time. Goalkeeper is a position where you ride the hot hand, however unsentimental.
Don’t think Klinsy is willing to bench Howard? He benched Oliver Kahn for Jens Lehmann right before the 2006 World Cup. That would be 2002 World Cup Golden Ball-winning, Champions League=winning, former Germany captain and still starting for Bayern Munich Oliver Kahn, who was Klinsmann’s former club and international teammate. Not to mention kind of a scary dude on top of all that.
Cardillo: Michael Parkhurst, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Fabian Johnson, Clarence Goodson, DaMarcus Beasley, Edgar Castillo
Goodson’s play at the Gold Cup helps solidify the center of the U.S. defense, however right back remains a major question mark. Presumptive starters Steve Cherundolo and Timmy Chandler didn’t play this summer, deputized by Brad Evans (a midfielder by trade) and later Parkhurst during the Gold Cup. Geoff Cameron could also slot in at the position, although he looked much better in a midfield role in the qualifiers. Don’t forget Cherundolo will be 35 next year and coming off an extended spell on the sidelines. Chandler never seems fully comfortable with the idea of playing for the U.S. It would be a lot easier to list “vacant” as position’s starter as we sit here in late July.
Duffy: Timmy Chandler, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Fabian Johnson, DaMarcus Beasley, Clarence Goodson, Michael Parkhurst,
The back four is about chemistry. Klinsmann, finally, seems to have stumbled on it with Gonzalez and Besler. The fullback positions are both questions. Klinsmann goes for it with talent and youth at the other two spots. The Beasley resurgence has been fun, until you picture him trying to track Arjen Robben or one of the Germany wingers. Chandler will get back into the fold, have too much to offer to not beat out the challengers. Cameron adds to the numbers by being able to fill in, or potentially start, at both right and center back.
Cardillo: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron, Joe Corona, Brek Shea, Alejandro Bedoya
Even prior to Stuart Holden’s unfortunate knee injury Sunday vs. Panama, central midfield is the one place the U.S. has a surplus on the depth chart. You can’t fill a 23-man roster for a World Cup and include each of Kyle Beckerman, Maurice Edu and Danny Williams. Fortunately Klinsmann has gone away from a three-man destroyer midfield in favor of the Bradley-Jones pairing. (For better or worse, Klinsmann has repeatedly stated his fondness for what Jones brings to the National Team.) There’s less depth in the wide-attacking areas, but both Corona and Shea (albeit in flashes) showed they could be useful players off the bench in 2014. Shea in particular is the biggest wild card the U.S. has suited up in recent seasons.
Duffy: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Graham Zusi, Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, Jermaine Jones, Joe Corona, Brek Shea, Maurice Edu, Sacha Kljestan,
Donovan had to prove he wanted it. Point proven. The attacking bank of three is settled. The real issue is who pairs with Michael Bradley in the deeper central role. I opted for Cameron, who can sit deep, protect the defense and let Bradley maraud forward. Jones is too similar to Bradley to be an effective two-man deep partnership against top-class teams. Shea is a wild-card, which is what you want from a sub.
Kljestan gets the final spot for me. That group is screaming for someone besides Bradley with technique on the ball who can play centrally. Maybe that’s Stuart Holden, but, facing a potential third extended outage with a knee injury, that’s looking less and less likely. Not sold on Torres.
Cardillo: Jozy Altidore, Eddie Johnson, Herculez Gomez, Aron Johannsson
As long as Klinsmann sticks with his successful 4-2-3-1 formation and Altidore adjusts smoothly to the Premier League at Sunderland, you don’t have to bring that many forwards to Brazil. Eddie Johnson version 2.0 is a decent fall back for the time being and in a worst case scenario, Dempsey fills the role of hybrid midfielder/forward “attacker.” Johansson, an American-Icelandic dual citizen, only just declared his interest to play for the United States but is a rising player and fits the profile of a player who hits his form leading up to a World Cup despite a minimal presence in qualifying. My guess is a surprise type like Johansson, Jack McInerney or somebody not even on the radar as of today fills the final roster spot.
Duffy: Jozy Altidore, Herculez Gomez, Aron Johannsson
Altidore had a great summer, but questions remain. Moving back to the EPL will be a test for him. His last spell there did not go as planned. Ideally, Jozy becomes a poor man’s Drogba who menaces opposing defenses. Gomez is a serviceable veteran, does most of what you want in terms of movement while not being a huge goal threat. In the third spot, you want…something positive. Eddie Johnson offers speed, and not much else. Maybe Terrence Boyd emerges. My guess is Aron Johansson, who has been impressing at a lower level in Europe, knew something when he declared his intention to play for the USA. I like what he might offer, at this stage, versus what I know others won’t.
Last three in
Cardillo: Brek Shea, Alejandro Bedoya, Aron Johannsson
Duffy: Brek Shea, Sacha Kljestan, Maurice Edu
Last three out
Cardillo: Chris Wondolowski, Steve Cherundolo, Danny Williams
Duffy: Eddie Johnson, Kyle Beckerman, Steve Cherundolo
Klinsmann Confidence Level
Cardillo: 8.5 out of 10. It’s remarkable how quickly Klinsmann endeared himself to U.S. fans only months removed from that Sporting News article casting a pall over his tenure. More than that, he’s gotten the team to play an attractive, attacking brand of soccer, but (and it’s a big but) … he’ll still be judged on the World Cup and getting out of the group, not destroying the likes of Belize and Guatemala. Still let’s let the good times roll, for now.
Related: Jurgen Klinsmann Fell Through a Trapdoor After Eddie Johnson Missed An Open Net [GIF]
Related: Panama’s Gabriel Torres Took a Ball to a Very Sensitive Area vs. the U.S. in the Gold Cup Final [GIF]
Related: Brek Shea’s Tap-In From Inches Away Puts the U.S. Ahead 1-0 in Gold Cup Final [Video]